Parts of the Thesis

Every discipline has specific requirements regarding parts of the thesis.  The Formatting & Submission area of this site will give you details related to the particular layout you need to follow, but first, here is a general overview:

  • All theses will have Front Matter which includes an Abstract. How the abstract is structured depends on your field

  • All theses will also have End Matter which will include a Bibliography or References section.  Use of the MLA Handbook, the Chicago Manual of Style, or APA format depends on your field

You are expected to be thoroughly familiar with all of Harvard Extension School's regulations involving plagiarism, the proper use of sources, and the preparation of academic papers. You can learn more about these regulations at: Academic Integrity

Your thesis will be broken into chapters - some fields have a specific number/type of chapters.


  • Biology and Psychology have 4 chapters: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion

  • Other disciplines such as English, History, and Math for Teaching have much more flexibility

We want you to have the structure you need to construct your work as efficiently as possible, but also give you the flexibility you need to flesh out your ideas and support your hypothesis.

Please consult with your Research Advisor whenever you have questions.

Title Page and Blank Page

Your Title Page follows these guidelines:

  • All content should be double-spaced
  • Title of work appears 2" from top of page, in appropriate upper-case and lower-case letters
  • Nothing is underlined or presented in boldface
  • Author’s name, including initials, appears centered on the page, 2 1/2" below first line of title - Title may, in some cases, require 2 lines
  • A standard statement concerning the field of concentration appears 2" below author’s name
  • Name of University and author’s date of graduation appear one inch below field of concentration - Final line should show date, 2 1/2" from bottom of page
  • Date always contains November, March, or May, depending upon your graduation time

Title Page is followed by Blank Page (also known as Copyright Page)

  • Do not print page number on copyright page (it is understood to be page ii)

If you wish to copyright your thesis, do one of the following:

  • Insert at bottom Blank/Copyright Page: “Copyright 2017 Author’s Name” - Reproduce without quotation marks, entering actual author’s name and current year
  • Replace the word “Copyright” with an upper-case “C” within a circle (©), followed by date and full, legal name of author


The abstract is typically a one-page, double-spaced summary of the thesis, although a second page is also acceptable.

The abstract, in this order, presents a succinct overview:

(1) the hypothesis or basic goal of the project

(2) the relevant background

(3) the research methods employed

(4) the chief results

(5) the author’s overall conclusion(s)

An outline of the thesis is not a satisfactory substitute for the abstract.

Note: As in the research proposal, the abstract asks and answers a question. If the rest of the thesis were missing, the abstract could stand alone as a summary of the research, and would be comprehensible to a reader unfamiliar with the text.

Sample abstracts are located here: Templates

Optional Parts of Front Matter

After the Abstract, you may include one or more of the following four optional pages: 

  • Frontispiece - usually an image or quotation
  • Author's Biographical Sketch - a short paragraph, written in the third person (e.g., "The author is a 1994 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross . . .") that includes relevant, non-commercial information about you
  • Dedication - usually comprised of one or two sentences, honoring a particularly influential person in your life/academic work
  • Acknowledgments - usually one page or less, listing the key contributors to your thesis, in narrative form

Table of Contents

Heading - should be placed one double space from the top margin; two double spaces should appear after it and before the first line of text.

Chapter titles - should appear exactly as they do in the text, using upper- and lower-case with no underlining or boldface.

  • Use indenting to display the structure of subchapters
  • Each a-head should be indented ½” under its numbered chapter title, each b-head should be indented ½” under the preceding a-head, etc.

Note: If a lengthy chapter title requires two lines, the second line of the title should be aligned under the first word of the title.

  • The first line of the title should be extended nearly to the right margin before the title drops to the second line
  • Fill out the rest of the second line with periods and the page number
  • No words should appear directly above or below the column where the aligned page numbers occur, as in the following example:


Page Numbers - the number of the beginning page should be indicated in each instance, connected to the title by a continuous line of spaced periods with no gap between the last period and the page number.

  • Page numbers should be aligned on the right

For a Table of Contents example, see Templates

List of Tables

A List of Tables follows the Table of Contents.

For each entry, there should be a table number, the title or legend as appropriate, and then the page where it appears in the text (page numbers should be *right justified*).

(1 double space from top margin)

List of Tables

Table 1        Demographic characteristics………………………………............15

Table 2        Mean IQ scores ………………………………………….......…….......21

Table 3        Correlations: Age, IQ, and demographic characteristics…..24

Table 4        Differences by Gender ………………………………………............28

List of Figures

A List of Figures follows the Table of Contents.

For each entry, there should be a figure number, the title or legend as appropriate, and then the page where it appears in the text (page numbers should be *right justified*).

(1 double space from top margin)

List of Figures

Fig. 1     Walter Gropius, Klee/Kandinsky House, 1925/26……………….82

Fig. 2     Louis Sullivan, Wainright Building, 1890/1…………………….....83

Fig. 3     Silos and grain elevators…………………………………………...........84

Fig. 4     Walter Gropius, model of standard houses and Seidlung……..85

Fig. 5     Bauhaus staff, 1925……………………………………………...…...........86

Body of the Thesis

Here’s a tip when working on the body of your thesis: Reduce your work to an outline.

  • If you can do that easily, it’s probably well organized
  • If you can’t, you may want to revisit the structure of your work

A question then arises: To what extent - if any - should the thesis contain major and minor headings to guide the reader?

  • Heading options include: Chapter, a-heads, b-heads, c-heads

The ALM thesis is divided first into chapters.

  • In some theses the chapters are subdivided
  • The headings for the major subdivisions (equivalents of the capital-letter divisions of an outline) are called a-heads
  • Subsections of these subdivisions/rubrics (equivalent to the Arabic-numeral divisions of an outline) are called b-heads
  • Subsections of these (equivalent to the lower-case-letter divisions of an outline) are called c-heads

Please note that these headings are not interchangeable units; they must be used in sequence.

  • first a-heads
  • then, if necessary, b-heads
  • and finally, c-heads

Each group represents a subdivision of a preceding rubric.

Also note that all subheadings appearing in the thesis must appear in the Table of Contents and that they must be formatted accordingly. (see Thesis Text)

Other items that may be included in the Body of your Thesis: Tables, Figures, Illustrations, Line Drawings, Photographs and Other Displays (see Tables, Figures, Displays)

Appendices or Supplements

Additional sections such as an appendix or supplement may be required for material that doesn’t fit into the body of your thesis. Examples of these materials include survey information, questionnaires, or raw data.

What should be placed into an appendix or supplement?

  • Figures or tables that are excessive in number or greater than 50% of the page
  • Raw data that spans several pages

How are appendices and supplements formatted?

You format these sections as a chapter and include them in the end matter before the references. If there are several appendices or supplements, they should be numbered.

Appendices and Supplements should be added to the table of contents

End Notes

Using Endnotes

  • Check with your Research Advisor to see if these are used in your disicpline
  • Use the appropriate style (APA, MLA, CMS) for your field  

  • Place endnotes at end of thesis as opposed to footnotes that appear at the end of each page

  • Use endnotes after appendices or supplements, and before bibliography or references

Bibliography or References


As part of your guide in developing an ALM thesis, we recommend double-spacing between entries but single-spacing within entries.

  • Because an ALM thesis typically contains numerous notes and an extensive list of source materials, this alternative method of formatting will help to reduce the overall pagination of the thesis

List of references - contains only those works specifically cited in the thesis.

  • The bibliography includes the foregoing but can, in addition, contain sources for background or further reading
  • As with the bibliography for the research proposal, your list of sources can be divided into Works Cited and Works Consulted
  • Further division into primary and secondary sources is also permitted, if you wish to arrange your source material into an even more detailed list
  • The bibliography should be consecutively paginated after the text

There are important differences, however, between the MLA, CMS, and APA methods.

  • Candidates in the fields of Biology and Psychology should note that the APA manual generally recommends a list of references, not a bibliography
  • For further details on these methods, we again urge you to consult Research Methods
  • Works appearing under Works Cited do not appear again in Works Consulted

Optional Index

If you feel there is a compelling academic reason to index your thesis, you should include it as the very last page(s), immediately following the bibliography or references.

For most works, the index is unnecessary, due to the required, detailed table of contents